My Experience in a Tokyo Tech Startup, by Michelle Gong

My Experience in a Tokyo Tech Startup, by Michelle Gong - AkihabaraNews.com

Michelle Gong is a liberal studies undergrad from UCLA currently studying abroad at Tokyo’s renowned Waseda University. Michelle is participating in AkihabaraNews’ Voluntern Program, and the following is the first of a series exploring her experience interning and interacting in Tokyo’s tech startup scene, living in Japan, and what she hopes the experience will add to her ongoing education.

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Starting with the Startup
When I first stepped into the office of local tech startup Eigooo.com in November of 2013, I had little idea of what to expect. All I knew was that I would spend the next three months here, working with the team and doing various intern-like things and learning a thing or two about what it means to work for a company in Japan, all while trying not to make some horrible mistake that would make them regret hiring me. Fortunately, I don’t think that happened.

JT Tech Show Featuring AkihabaraNews: Interview with Eigooo's Peter Rothenberg (PODCAST)

The Team
At Eigooo, I worked with three people: two supervisors, one Japanese, the other who was the founder of Eigooo, American Peter Rothenberg. There was one other intern, a Japanese university student who took care of the work that my barely-Japanese speaking self could not. What I could take care of, though, was managing the company Facebook and Twitter, taking on a few of the standard social media manager roles: writing and scheduling tweets and posts, setting up and managing Facebook ads, etc. However, those tasks were quickly pushed to the back seat when it was found that I could maneuver my way around Photoshop. After that, I was tasked with redoing much of the website as well as providing other images whenever needed.

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The Atmosphere
As with all start-ups, there’s a certain levity in the atmosphere at Eigoo. There was no dress code at the shared (with other startups) office space, and few people dressed nicer than they would for a day out shopping in Shibuya. Scattered around the office were several large bouncy balls, boxes of snacks free for the taking, and a giant stuffed Rilakkuma that no one was particularly sure how it got there, but it made for nice company. However, as part of the internship, I learned how it would have been in a more formal setting. Along with my co-intern, we were taught the proper way to exchange business cards by a kindly Japanese gentleman, as well as other customs of Japanese companies ranging from proper greetings to the order of seniority for standing in an elevator. Everything was very interesting, but I can’t say I envied my Japanese co-intern.

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Cultural Traditions & Office Fun
On the lighter side, there were several fun, uniquely-Japanese traditions around the office, and as I was by far the most non-Japanese, gaijin person there, the Eigooo team made sure I received the full Japanese experience. After the New Year holiday, I arrived at work on a Sunday expecting the usual work day. As soon as I entered the office, though, I was assaulted by the smell of mochi, and a brief look quickly told me that it was not going to be a typical work day. That Sunday was the New Year’s party for the entire shared office, and everyone and some of their family came. Mochi was made and pounded (I was literally pushed to the giant mallet by my team), calligraphy was written, and it more than made up for the fact that my shift actually kept me from going to another New Year’s party at school.

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About a month later, on Setsubun, I watched with amusement as my co-intern and Japanese supervisor circled the office, eyes on their iPhones as they tried to figure out which direction was the traditional direction we were supposed to face while eating makizushi before tossing beans at Peter in an oni mask.

Soon after that interesting experience, my three months at Eigooo came to an end. It was great being able to see the app through to launch, and there will always be that little bit of pride knowing that I took part in it.

AkihabaraNews: Startups in Japan

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Images: Michelle Gong; Eigooo.com

Stay tuned for Michelle’s upcoming contributions as she progresses through AkihabaraNews’ Voluntern Program.